Thermal printing is one of the most reliable ways to print labels, barcodes, QR codes, receipts, and more. It offers long-lasting, smudge-free results, and users typically spend less on consumables like ink and toner. As a result, it’s a popular printing option for a huge range of businesses and manufacturers all over the world.
Thermal printing gives businesses excellent printing results for many kinds of printed products. But without knowing how it works, it can be difficult to decide if it’s the right print route for you. Here’s an overview of the two types of thermal printing, and how they can be effectively used to generate crisp, durable print results.
What Is Thermal Printing?
Thermal printing uses heat to produce high-quality printed images. The method works by heating up tiny dots on the print head, which then react with a ribbon (thermal transfer) or the print media (direct thermal) to produce an image. Print heads are often interchangeable, so you can choose the dpi (dots per inch) resolution that’s suitable for your product. It’s a highly precise process, with a quality finish and no risk of smudging. Thermal printing is primarily used for printing barcodes, labels, signage and specialist material.
What Are The Types Of Thermal Printing?
There are two types of thermal printing method – thermal transfer and direct thermal. While they both rely on heat to create an image, each method has variations in technique and print results that change their suitability for certain print tasks.
Direct thermal printing is a relatively simple heat printing process. Direct thermal uses carefully treated media – known as thermochromic media – as a print surface. As the print head is heated, the media reacts to the temperature, changing colour in line with your print design to produce a crisp, clear image. A direct thermal print head can consist of up to 1200 dpi, making it an excellent option for high-resolution printing of barcodes and labels.
This method doesn’t require ribbons, toner, or ink, which can save you money on maintenance and consumables. The low maintenance aspect of direct thermal printing appeals to many companies, particularly if they’re considering investing in their own labelling machine. However, unlike the thermal transfer technique, direct thermal prints are susceptible to fading if they’re exposed to light, heat or moisture – particularly for a prolonged period of time.
Thermal transfer is a highly durable print technique – so many industrial labellers rely on this technique for creating robust, long-lasting labels. In the thermal transfer method, the heated print head presses down onto a thermal-compliant ribbon, immediately melting and transferring the coating of the ribbon onto the print surface. The print head consists of a number of dots, each of which is heated or cooled in line with the design of your print. When the print has been created, the print head cools instantly, creating a dry, crisp print that can’t be erased or smudged.
Thermal transfer printing is renowned for offering a premium finish. With this method, you can create labels or barcodes that can withstand exposure to light, heat, moisture, chemicals and more. It’s also excellent if you need a high-resolution print since you can use print heads of up to 600 dpi. A higher resolution print will make your codes easy to scan, saving time for your team and customers.
What Can Thermal Printing Be Used For?
Thermal printing is a highly versatile process – so it can be used to create a huge range of printed products. Many businesses choose thermal printers for their barcodes and product labels, thanks to the durability and resolution of their print results. Barcodes, in particular, benefit from a high-resolution print, as it makes scanning swift and effective, resulting in quicker service (and more customers). Receipts are also commonly created using direct thermal printing, as it’s fast, effective, and they don’t typically need to last for years.
Thermal transfer printing is great for producing permanent signs and labels, particularly those which are designed to be used outdoors or in areas with heavy traffic. Because this technique produces a hardwearing print, the surface will be able to withstand inclement weather and strong sunlight.
While thermal printing is very versatile, there are certain applications it’s not suitable for. It’s not ideal for use as a standard office printer, as the machine costs are typically too high for basic print jobs such as printing contracts and emails. Few offices require regular printing to the standard output by thermal printers. There are also limitations on the colours that can be output by thermal printers, so they’re unsuitable for printing photographs, despite their high resolution.
Why Choose Thermal Printers?
Both types of thermal printing are among the highest quality print methods available today. With direct thermal and thermal transfer printing, you’ll get:
- Long-lasting results. While the thermal transfer is more durable than direct transfer printing, both will last considerably longer than ink-based printing methods, such as continuous inkjet (CIJ) or laser printing.
- High-resolution images. Thanks to their smudge resistance and precision, thermal printing offers quality, high-resolution print compared with inkjet printing.
- Compatibility with a range of media. Thermal printing is a versatile technology that can print on paper, card, textiles, flooring, and a variety of other treated surfaces.
- Lower spend on consumables. Thermal printers tend to have fewer moving parts than other printers, which means potentially lower maintenance costs – and you won’t have to replace ink or toner cartridges.